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Frederick Douglass accuses the portrayal of the independent, just, free and individualistic American identity as “inhuman mockery”, falsely advertising that not all people that reside in America possessed the same liberties and freedom that every American was supposed to have.
Douglass refutes the common belief that when you first step foot on American soil, no matter where you come form, symbolizes a new beginning on the path to a better life. In Letters from an American Farmer, the author Michel Guillaume Jean De Crevecoeur emphasizes the fact that America is a huge melting pot and that no matter where you hail from, once you set foot in this country you will you are an American and you receive every liberty that comes along with that title. “The laws, the indulgent laws, protect them as they arrive, stamping on them the symbol of adoption…those lands confer on them the title of freemen, and to that title every benefit is affixed which men can possibly require.” (Crevecoeur 3). According to Crevecoeur, every man is given the right of being a freeman, and that title includes every liberty a man could every want and need. Frederick Douglass strongly disagrees with this statement, as shown in his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech that he delivered to a group of abolitionists for Independence Day in 1852. Douglass starts the speech positively, his tone very calm and humbled, and talking about the fact that since America was such an young nation he had high hopes that abolition of slavery would be achieved in the future. Then about halfway through the speech (our abridged copy) Douglass takes a much more aggressive, straightforward position about how he feels about slavery in the U.S and about how a slaves first steps are on American soil opposed to someone of European descent. “The Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.” (Douglass 5). Douglass puts emphasis on all of his pronouns regarding the slaves and the white man to show how all of the freedoms and liberties that are supposed to come along with being American are only given to a certain category of the population. He also calls it an abomination that you would bring people to this great land of “liberty” in chains and then expect them to agree that American is indeed the land of the free, which is so openly advertised as being the basis of the American Identity.
Another big part of the American Identity is being able to work hard for economic success. Throughout his paper Crevecoeur is constantly reiterating the fact that being an American is about having the ability to work hard in order to gain monetary rewards and work your way up the social ladder. “They receive ample rewards for their labours; these accumulated rewards procure them lands;” (Crevecoeur 3). All citizens earned fair wages for their work and their new found rewards would give them the ability to prove their wealth. Douglass proved this claim as false using slavery as a perfect example as to why it wasn’t true. “What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men,” (Douglass 6). Douglass uses the American liberty of being able to earn money for your hard work to again show how he feels about the advertised independence for all in America. He argues that the slaves not being able to earn wages for their work shows how the whites completely disregarded them as men and just added on to the fact that independence was selective.
In conclusion Frederick Douglass believes that American Independence and the American Identity is selective. Slaves were also people of America and they were denied all of the basic liberties and freedoms that the White population possessed. He believed that American Independence would be a sham until everyone living in this country had the same basic rights.
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